The rise of the Developer Experience Engineer, and why it matters

In a world that increasingly relies on digital products, software development is becoming the catalyst for value creation and achieving top-line business results. At each level of industry, innovation is driving productivity. This is particularly true for firms on the technological frontier looking to innovate in response to competition. In many cases, this means developing new software at pace.

Developer Experience Engineer

According to Evans Data, the number of developers globally is expected to increase from 23.9 million in 2019 to 28.7 million in 2024. IDC believes that within three years, more than half of Fortune 500 companies’ output will revolve around digital and digitally enabled products and services.

Yet, teams that focus on creating the best possible environment for developers to succeed see meaningful results on their bottom line. A recent report from McKinsey proved that businesses prioritizing developer velocity have four to five times the revenue growth of their counterparts.

Now that companies need developers more than ever, how can they maximize developer productivity, engagement, and business value? How can they take the best of what the industry knows and drive forward together, losing friction and gaining velocity?

The Developer Experience Engineer (DXE)

Engineering teams need a leader, a Developer Experience Engineer, who ensures developers have the right tools, processes, and environment to maximize productivity and create the greatest business value possible. The DXE is the foundation for engineering team success. They make it easy for developer teams to focus on their highest purpose and generate the highest value by solving, automating, and eliminating the daily toil developers encounter. They are a major unlocking force that boosts teams to new heights.

A DX owner or function isn’t a new idea. Twitter formed an “engineering effectiveness” organization in 2014, and Google has a massive “engineering productivity” team. In many companies, however, the role emerges organically and is growing.

DXEs implement a common set of principles, maintain the right tools, and create cohesive standards that clear the path to developer success. Without them, too many languages, frameworks, engineering styles, and processes can add drag. A drag on developers is a drag on the business. Beyond the expense of wasted developer minutes, low performance can affect overall innovation, execution quality and timeliness, and the customer experience. In fact, it all adds on to the bottom line.

Developers are experts in their domain – they build. They are not necessarily experts in the field of process optimization. Sensibly, they’ll optimize for their own speed (such as choosing their favorite language to write in), but sometimes at the detriment to the velocity of the team. As the number of developers in an organization grows, complexity grows tenfold. The role of the Developer Experience Engineer becomes ever more important to create efficiencies and shared practices between ambitious and energized teams.

Finally, a DXE helps identify and eliminate waste, i.e., the toil involved in maintaining existing software systems. Without DXE, engineers spend time on maintenance instead of building. This is less efficient than having a person with centralized authority do maintenance, allowing developers to write code. Software developer teams can thus spend more time focused on doing what they love with the right processes in place. Leaders in this role have already developed keen strategies for helping their teams find and identify areas for optimizing workflows and eliminating waste.

The DXE is not a gatekeeping role to solve problems in developers’ service. Rather, they help promote good solutions from individual teams and enable standardization where it makes sense to simplify development across services.

The business impact of the DXE: The right questions

  • Revenue growth: The increase, or decrease, in a company’s sales between two periods — how did software drive this figure? How could the developer team grow it for the next quarter or year?
  • Improved end-user experience: Users’ impressions of services may be multi-faceted. How can software engineering improve UX and measurably improve dwell time, or ratings, or grow the user base?
  • Increased quality of releases: Developers should feel real ownership here. How do we ship more stable code, how do we create more innovative and needed features? Getting people to truly care about quality means caring about both business value and usability.
  • Efficiency: Working on only the things that matter. How many times a day are developers merging to the main branch? How often is my code in a releasable state? How much of my codebase is covered by tests? Have I optimized my tooling and infrastructure? What are the potential speed gains and savings of alternative tooling/infrastructure solutions?

How do you know your team needs a Developer Experience leader?

It’s not easy to give a definitive rule as to when the enterprise needs a Developer Experience Engineer — companies have different engineering numbers, skills, experiences, tooling, and processing. Small teams can be united by clear visions and kept on track with perfectly sensible KPIs.

However, as the team grows, and the developer becomes a more critical role in every organization, there is a significant benefit in formalizing the Developer Experience role and consistency in creating and realizing value – as well as properly recognizing the role. For companies, the role helps engineers hit ever-higher rates of development velocity — a key component of business success. For developers, a clear picture of an experienced team and leader signals the investment of an organization that values their work and time.

The case for a Developer Experience Engineer

Opportunities to improve the developer experience:

  • Gain meaningful value from talent: The average cost of a developer minute in Silicon Valley is about $1.42. That’s every minute a developer’s meter is running, yet organizations are rife with productivity killers.
  • Developers in flow: Distractions can make or break a developer’s productivity. Everything from email and Slack to the tools developers use to build and test can take a developer out of the flow state — reducing productivity and increasing costs and toil.
  • Solving interesting problems: Developers want interesting problems. Some of the less cutting-edge work developers are tasked with — updating plugins or investigating and fixing flaky tests can be reduced by leveraging the right automation tools under the expertise of a DXE.
  • Ensuring work has meaning: Getting developers closer to the end customer and the challenges their product helps solve connects them to the company mission. Too often, teams can lose sight of their mission and the value they deliver. Lifting developers out of daily toil, helping them ship quality products faster, brings the team closer to the customer and highlights how they are helping improve the experiences and lives of users. Everyone benefits and team satisfaction is boosted.
  • Bring buying decisions closer to the engineering team: Tool decisions are made at levels far removed from the engineers that use them – at the same time that an abundance of new tooling options are available. A DXE can bridge the gap between the top of the organization and developers that are doing the work, offering holistic benefits.
  • Bring leadership closer to the engineering team: Measuring and optimizing engineering velocity is the primary goal, as well as the ability to capture and report on engineering success and how that maps onto business value. Leadership benefits from having a context switching DXE in engineering who will translate engineering success into business value.

The DXE and the future

Organizations have tried to solve the issue of developer experience in a variety of ways for decades, but it’s never been more important than now as software has become the dominant force behind every aspect of the economy. The emergence of the DXE as a standard role, with core responsibilities and measures of success, will unleash the power of developers across every type of organization and in every industry.

This promises to supercharge the development team, increasing productivity, efficiency, and the quality of the shipped product. Organizations in the post-pandemic era are making the investment now to ensure they are creating the right environment for their engineering teams to bear fruit.

They are looking to create resilient teams, tools, and infrastructure to combat the next inevitable disruption to the industry. Having the right environment with the right tools and processes in place turns smart engineers into great engineers. It starts with the DXE.

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